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April 6th, 2021

5 innocuous things that are making me happy in and around the present moment

- Shark Attack! Our household generally prefers the city vacation, where we hit museums and restaurants and enjoy the wonders of public transportation. However things being how they are, we decided to spend this spring break in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the stomping grounds of my Uncle Shark. We cruised the Blue Ridge Parkway, stood atop the highest point East of the Mississippi, and punched some waterfalls. I'm still immediately going back to Montreal when the border opens up, but we had a pretty good time hanging out outdoors.

- The weather is finally turning so I'm back in the garage building shit. Here's a shelf I built and a little insight into my design process (spoiler: there isn't much)

- This is Drake and Diane. They are my duck friends. Every day I walk around Barton Pond and for the last few months, I've seen this cute couple and said hi. Now they seem to be very reticent to leave a certain part of the pond and are being stalked by Canadian Geese, so it may soon be time to make way for ducklings. Keep watching this space!

- It's that time of year again where we push to acknowledge that Geeks Who Drink - and specifically the Tuesday night version at Mash hosted by yours truly - is the best trivia night in Ann Arbor. Have we had a trivia night at Mash in the last year? Of course not. I'll still argue we're the best and deserve your vote, which you can cast daily here. (You may have to write in Geeks Who Drink @ Mash)

- And finally, in the not-so-innocuous, the BDGF's littlest has accepted her offer to join the University of Michigan Engineering program next year. We of course couldn't be prouder and I'm particularly proud that we are five for five in our household when it comes to Michigan matriculation. Hail to the Victors.

Posted 9:55am
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March 26th, 2021

It's Checklist Season!

Remember a few years ago when Hanukkah was on Thanksgiving? That was weird. Once I was in Las Vegas on St. Patrick's Day which was also the second weekend of March Madness and that was a confluence of events that took years off of my life. But hey, sometimes your birthday is on a Friday.

Thanks to the pandemic my two annual checklist events are overlapping this year as the Oscars got pushed back while the NCAA men's basketball tournament is taking place, so it's nothing but clipboards and different colored markers over at my house.

First, let's look at March Madness. I'm not the world's biggest college basketball fan, but I am a nationally recognized opportunity to gamble enthusiast. Over the years I've dabbled in all kinds of brackets, but for the last few years I'm down to two: one monster with a few thousand players where if you get lucky you could buy a decent certified pre-owned car, and one with a couple of hundred entrants where a win means a significantly upgraded vacation. I've also taken to picking Michigan to go all the way in one of my brackets and then going with some kind of chalk in the other. And good news! Thanks to Oral Roberts and chaos tournament, IF Michigan wins out, I'll be looking at a significantly upgraded vacation.

The other boxes I'm ticking are for my annual #Oscarquest where I attempt to watch every film nominated for an Academy Award. It's good news here as well, as I'm down to my last half dozen watches (minus the shorts, which I will knock out in the theater when they do that bit, which I've confirmed they are still doing this year.) Nomadland will probably win the top two awards, which I am on board with. I hate that I'm Thinking of Ending Things got so little love, and that I had to watch Mulan, which had no redeeming qualities (I suppose you could say it had Donny Yen in it, but they squandered him.) It's not as bad as Hillbilly Elegy, but few things are. I probably never would have watched the Hong Kong film Better Days without #Oscarquest, and that's why I still do this dumb thing.

So things are getting back to normal? I kind of buried the lede in that the last two members of my household got their first shots last night, so we're officially a month from freedom. I mean, I bought concert tickets today! They're for November, but still... Everyone is eligible soon. Everything's coming up Milhouse...

Posted 10:44am
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March 8th, 2021

Getting together with strangers in the dark

I just bought a magazine! No really! I'm not going on a train nor airplane (obv.) and nobody I know was mentioned in it. There was no former nor current Michigan Wolverine on the cover that I might someday somehow get to autograph it (I think those are the last 5 magazine purchases I made in the last 15 years.) I had to go to three different stores over the course of two weeks to even find the thing. Perhaps that's not surprising as I just talked about the demise of the format, but I digress.

I purchased the March 2021 issue of Empire Magazine, wherein Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Baby Driver) curates anecdotes from some of the world's greatest filmmakers recounting their favorite cinematic experiences. Going to the movies is my second most missed activity from the past year's hellscape, so I really wanted to learn what all those people depicted above remembered most about all those hours we've collectively spent sitting in the dark being nervous, scared, elated and relieved.

And spoiler alert, it's great. I'm actually not even all the way through it yet as I'm parsing it out and savoring it like a delicacy I don't know when I'll get more of. Most of the recollections are of two varieties: the first is a moment when the author was in a theater and remembers everyone in said theater losing their collective shit. Think when Indy shoots the swordsman or when we see Jaws for the first time. Just great movie moments that always play better when you're surrounded by strangers. The others are more of a “this screening was great because of this great idiosyncratic thing that happened during it.” Think of first date at a horror movie or seeing Spinal Tap for the first time with your college roommates.

With that in mind, please allow me to share two of my favorite memories. They kinda sorta fall into each of those two categories, if you'll indulge me.

The first was in 1999. My friend and I were going to see South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and we decided to get super baked in the parking lot beforehand. If you're going to see a South Park movie, it seemed silly not to. For context, pot was not legal and while I had been high quite a bit in my day, I wasn't super used to doing it in public. I was probably finally in a place as an adult where I felt like I had the authority to do it? Like I could get away with it. ANYWAY, we went in, purchased our tickets and on our way to the concession stand ran into half a dozen people from my work.

Now while these people were probably less than 10 years older than me and couldn't give two shits about what I had ingested as a film enhancer, as someone not accustomed to being publicly high the paranoia kicked in. Not crippling panic attack, but “Oh shit I'm high and there's no way they won't know.” So I fumbled through some pleasantries (Gotta go, movie's gonna start!) and some more at the concession counter and made my way into the relative safety of the theater. Then the picture started and I laughed so hard I could barely catch my breath for the first twenty minutes. You guys, I know I was high, but I've never laughed harder in my life. To this day. I forgot about what anyone was going to think of me the next day and laughed so hard I had to literally take a knee during the dance remix of “Uncle Fucka.” That's the power of cinema.

On the other end of the spectrum, in 2016 I drove to Royal Oak (north of Detroit) to see the documentary about James Baldwin I am Not Your Negro. It's (putting it simply) about the struggle for civil rights. I had driven to Royal Oak because it wasn't on the schedule at my local art house and I wanted to make sure I saw it. Eventually it came to Ann Arbor and I went to see it again with some friends and you can't imagine (or maybe you can, who am I to say) the difference seeing a documentary about racial justice with a mostly black audience just outside Detroit and with a lilly white one in a college town.

I can't tell you anymore what the specific reactions were or to what parts of the movie, other than they were stark. Maybe I can say that in Ann Arbor there was an air of sadness and in Royal Oak everyone was just agreeing with Baldwin, affirming “I know that's right” with their response. It's not that anyone in either audience was being told something they didn't know necessarily, but the white audience maybe felt a little shame, and the black audience was saying “finally, someone is saying this.” I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth with five year old recollections, but those two screenings crystallized something in me that I often think or even say I know, but still have a visceral reaction to when put in front of me. That's the power of cinema.

So you can't run out to the cinema right now, even though if you're reading this you probably want to. But perhaps let it serve as a reminder that the cinemas need your money too. Netflix and Disney+ and the rest are great, but they can't replace going to the movies. Really nothing can, and we all desperately need to remember that. Support your local arthouse especially. Seeing Indiana Jones or Casablanca or 2001 or even The Room is a different experience once you're in the dark and surrounded by strangers staring up at the same thirty foot tall screen. It's something that needs saving as much as anything we share collectively.

Posted 11:01am
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February 9th, 2021

Vaccination Street

 

I'm fully vaccinated! I'm finally a 1%er! I'm invincible!

I feel like I have the appropriate guilt about being one of the first people to be vaccinated against COVID. I took a job 25 years ago because my roommate picked a flyer up off the ground at Angel Hall and kept that job when I graduated because they offered me health insurance and I needed it for my 3 year old. It's never paid overly well but the benefits were pretty good - never so much as now.

So I got lucky. The weight is somewhat lifted. The BDGF is only three weeks behind me, so soon it'll be even lighter. The weather will change and we can all go outside and it will be lighter still. There's no counting down the days because who the fuck knows, but I can imagine going to the movies. Imagine sitting at a bar. Imagine being in my house alone because all the other residents are out doing something.

The last year sucked. I'll never stop being angry at every asshole I know who voted for Trump who apparently wanted to see what happens when you face a crisis without leadership nor competency. I'll always be bewildered at every person I see not bothering to respect any of the protocols. I'm anxious and sad and tired and all of the things this has wrought. And as I've said, this fucking shit has affected me so little compared to most people.

Which is why I'm praying or hoping or wishing or whatever my functional equivalent is to all that nonsense that you all get to join me ASAP. I want you singing the baseline to Fascination Street as you confidently stride down the road. Having something to look forward to is one of the most important things in life, and as I wanted this for myself I just as badly want it for you, so we can go out for a drink toute suite. It's been too long.

Posted 11:59am
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